When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 3.2

Back at the motel, Max took to collapsing on the bed, while May placed her sample of the dog’s saliva in the mini fridge.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” she said to her brother as she went to sit on her bed. “We’re heading out again soon.”

Max emerged from the fort of pillows he’d built around his head. “What for?”

“First, to get lunch. I’m breaking my fast–”

“Good.”

“Next, to check out the park Lackley said the dog frequents.”

“May what the hell are we going to find there?”

“We’ll ask around. Who knows? Maybe we’ll run into the dog again.”

Max groaned and dropped his head back down. “I hope not!”

“Then after all that, I wanted to head to the YMCA and talk to Dennis Grant.”

“Who?”

“Guy who used to work as an animal officer.” May picked up the room phone and pressed it to her ear. She quickly punched in some numbers. “So like I said, don’t get comfortable.”

“I still don’t know why you can’t just leave me here.”

May arched an eyebrow at him. “You know why.”

Max’s fists clenched on the sheets.

May crossed her legs as she heard the phone ring. For a moment it seemed that no one would pick up, but then just as she was about to hang up, someone answered.

“Veritas Forensic Laboratories, this is Leonard?” The voice was male and scratchy, like the speaker had a sore throat.

“Hi, Leo. It’s me.”

There was a long beat of silence.

The freelancer had met Leonard back when she had first started her strange career. She had needed a DNA comparison between a man’s blood and a dead bird. Despite having the funds from her employer to hire Veritas Forensic Laboratories, they refused on the basis that she was, in their words, crazy. “Why would anyone want to compare human and animal DNA?” they asked.

She didn’t bother explaining to them that she suspected the man the blood sample came from of being in some way a descendant of a Garuda, which was a predatory avian-being from Buddhist mythology.

Apparently, news got around in their offices about the bizarre request which caught Leonard’s attention. Leonard was a black sheep himself among his peers, believing in such things as alien reptiles, Big Foot, and CIA secret wars (among other things.) He contacted May privately and conducted her test for her in secret. As it turned out, there was no connection between May’s suspect and her dead bird, but Leonard still maintained an interest in being of help to the freelancer. She found his open-mindedness invaluable, if a little odd.

After all, even she didn’t believe in Big Foot.

“…May,” Leonard said with a definite note of chill. “My, my. You actually called.”

May winced and rubbed her neck. “So I know I should’ve called sooner–”

“Try a month sooner.”

“I’m sorry, Leo.”

Leonard sighed hard over the receiver. “Did your last case go well?”

“Oh. Yeah. It, uh, went well. We convinced the tribe to leave, thanks to your results.”

“Hmph.” She could practically see Leonard give a strong flick of his thick pompadour haircut. For a man approaching his forties and a family history of hair loss, the lab technician had a very healthy head of dark hair, and he was very proud of it. She never said this to him, but she suspected the use of hair plugs.

May took off her glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose. “Did I mention I was sorry?”

“You might’ve.”

She groaned. “Leo, come on. I got caught up in things!”

Leonard’s voice took on a weary note, and May could hear glass clinking over the line. “You’re always caught up in something. Like how a redheaded woman fell out of the sky and into your greenhouse last summer?

May’s face pulled into an incredulous scowl. “Out of all of my stories, why is that one the must unbelievable to you?”

“I can understand if people seek you out for troubles, but when trouble just falls out of the sky…?”

“Nice. Skepticism coming from the man who believes carrying around an acorn will keep him young forever!”

“Jealousy will get you nowhere.”

“Look, we’re getting off topic.”

“And pray, what were we talking about?”

May cleared her throat. “I, ah, have another…favor to ask you.”

“Of course you do.”

“I know, I know, I don’t deserve to ask you this! Honestly, if I could, I wouldn’t bother you, but this is something I need your help with, Leo!”

“May, our lab is busy, I don’t know if I can pull off–”

“There’s a dog, and I think something’s wrong with him. He acts funny. Can’t I just send you a sample?”

There was another beat of silence.

“…A dog?” Leonard’s voice seemed to snap in half at the word, his rasp turning into a brittle crack.

“Yes!”

“I don’t know how I can help you! We aren’t a veterinary clinic!”

“Don’t give me that! Your lab’s worked with animal samples before!”

“On the rare occasion, yes. But we only use it to identify an animal, not to understand its genetic makeup! I’m guessing that’s what you really want, right?”

May leaned forward onto her legs with a short exhale. She could feel the starting of frustration tightening up her back and shoulders. “Yeah. Isn’t there something your lab can–”

“No,” Leonard said shortly. “We’re a private crime lab, not a medical one! DNA profiling and genetic sequencing are two different things!”

The freelancer closed her eyes. “All right… Thanks, anyway–”

However.”

May sat up, her eyes widening. “…Yes?”

Leonard’s scratchy voice dropped an octave as he murmured softly into the phone. Voices could be heard in the background that weren’t there before. “I might know somebody who owes me a favor at UC Felmore’s Veterinary Genetics Lab. If you overnight whatever sample you have to me, I could take it to them and have them do a full genome sequence on this dog you’re so interested in. They’ve even got a new sequencer that can get you results in a few hours!”

May smiled so hard it hurt. “That’d be great, Leo! I’ll send the sample off before tonight!”

“Now the real question is, what the heck kind of case are you working on that you need the genetic information of a dog?”

May explained the encounter she and Max had with the stray dog at Watcher Avenue.

Leonard let out a long, “Mmm,” and the freelancer swore she could hear his fingers scratching his beard over the phone.

“So basically, you want to know if this dog’s been…altered in some way?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Hmm…it’d be better if you had a blood sample. Then you could test to see if it’s been injected with a drug or something. But I’ll see if my friend can help, all right?”

“Thanks, Leo.”

“And call me back this time. I don’t do this stuff for you just to have you forget about me afterward!”

May stood with a quick nod. “Sure thing. Expect my package by tomorrow morning, even if I have to drive it over myself! Thanks again.” She hung up and dug out her keys from her pocket. “Get up Max. I need to find a courier service before we head off to lunch!”

She got a soft snore in response and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling.

—–

They returned to the diner from earlier that day. Max was still yawning even when their food arrived at their table. May tried not to let it annoy her.

A double cheeseburger with onion rings for him. A chicken salad for her.

When the waitress set May’s food down and walked away, Max shook his head. May’s patience snapped.

“What are you shaking your head at?” she bit out as she placed her paper napkin in her lap and picked up her fork.

Max just crossed his arms and sat back in his chair, his face deadly serious as though he were trying very hard to solve a life or death puzzle.

Finally, he asked, “May, you haven’t got some weight issue thing, right?”

May stopped chewing the salad she had just put in her mouth. Staring across at her brother, she tried to discern if he was serious or just messing with her. When her withering stare didn’t make him withdraw his question, she realized with appall that it was the former.

With effort, the freelancer swallowed her food.

At her delayed response, Max plucked up a large onion ring and ripped off half of it. “Hey, as always, I’m not trying to offend. But when you said you were going to stop fasting I thought you’d get something heavier than a salad.”

May thought about that. Then shrugged her mouth. “A fair point.” She glared at him. “That still doesn’t excuse your rudeness.”

“It’s rude to ask if my sister is trying to lose weight?”

“It’s rude to assume that, yes. I fast to cleanse, not to lose weight. Also, I happen to like vegetables more than I do meat.”

“Is my misunderstanding so far fetched, though?”

May speared at her salad more aggressively than necessary. “It isn’t far fetched so much as just sad. Why does a person wanting to eat healthy automatically mean they’re doing it to fit an ideal body image?”

Max held up his hands. “I’m sorry I insulted you but I had good intentions! I was just concerned! I mean you’re skinny enough already!”

At this, May angrily thrust her fork at her brother, making him flinch. “Shut your mouth! I don’t need your fucking acceptance Max! If I was 200 pounds, I still wouldn’t need, nor want, your acceptance! Nothing in what I was doing warranted your judgement or concern, and if you do it again I’m leaving you here! Deal’s off! And that goes for everything, Max. My life is off limits!”

Max snorted. “So it’s okay for you to judge me and treat me like shit, but I can’t say anything to you? I’m your older brother!”

“You’re a stranger asking for handouts,” May snarled back before taking a furious bite of her salad.

Her brother’s face became a bright pink, and with a slam of his hands on the table, he slid out of their booth.

“Fuck this,” he muttered.

“Where are you going?” May snapped.

“Away. I can’t take your hypocrisy anymore…”

And with hands in his pockets, Max stormed out of the diner. May watched him go but did not rise. After five minutes of silent fuming, she resumed eating her salad. Her eyes flickered to the burger across the table, but in the time it took her to finish her food, her brother did not return. After paying and slipping his food into a to-go box, May expected Max to be at or near her car, waiting.

When she emerged from the diner, it was to find instead that her brother was gone.


Previously in Chapter 3.1

When Dogs Won’t Dig: Chapter 3.1

May’s eyes fluttered as she took in the sight of the black dog standing behind Max. It stood rigidly in the middle of the street, its ears and tail perked up as it stared intensely at them. The animal looked to be a cross between a Rottweiler and a Mastiff, and while it was by no means the largest dog May had ever seen, it was certainly large enough to make anyone think twice about messing with it. A thick rope of drool quivered from its lips.

Max stood ramrod straight, his eyes locked onto May’s face. “May,” he said slowly. “What’s it doing?”

“It’s just staring at us,” she whispered back. She frowned. “For a dog on the street it seems pretty healthy… Not even that mangy!”

“Great for it, then.”

“This dog has been on the streets for years. Is someone secretly caring for it?”

“Maybe what we should be thinking about is scaring this dog off!”

“Are you crazy? I’m supposed to be catching this dog, Max, not chasing him away!”

“May, I swear to God if this thing bites me–”

No sooner had he finished saying this that the dog approached Max from behind, effectively slipping out of May’s sight line. Judging from the small yelp her brother let out, the dog was getting a bit too close for comfort.

“Max?” she prompted nervously.

“He’s sniffing me,” the man rasped through tight lips. Max turned his head just enough to allow for him to look down with his eyes. His brow tightened further, and May could see the sweat roll down the inside of his nose.

“He’s…really looking at me, May,” he murmured shakily.

May squinted her eyes in confusion. “How do you mean?”

Her brother clenched his fists as his eyes tracked the dog’s movements around the car. May could hear the animal’s claws clicking on the asphalt.

“He’s coming to you!” Max hissed needlessly.

May swallowed, feeling her skin break out in gooseflesh. As her heart raced, pumping blood and adrenaline through her body, she thought distantly, Maybe this isn’t the best time to try for a fast after all…

Then she felt the dog’s nose at her left ankle, and she breathed in sharply. The animal nudged up her pant leg, past her dress socks, and its wet nose felt cold on her skin. Some of its slimy drool coated her shin. When it was apparently satisfied, it went to the other leg and did the same. May grit her teeth through it, placing her hands on the roof of her car. Thoughts rushed through her mind so quickly she could hardly make sense of them. Next, the dog raised his head and started to sniff around her waist. When it tried to stick its head under her coat however, May jerked, unable to take it anymore.

“Hey!” she cried out, glaring down at the animal.

The dog immediately backed away with a growl, its teeth bared in warning.

May paled, and held up her hands. “Shit…” she muttered.

But the dog didn’t advance on her. Instead, it slowly looked her up and down, and it was at that moment that the freelancer understood her brother’s unsettled remark.

“It’s like he’s trying to figure us out,” she whispered.

The dog tilted its head to one side before letting out a short snort. With its tail and ears now relaxed, it turned and walked away, up the sidewalk toward the direction they had just come. Looking ahead, May could see the kids on the street watching. They pointed and laughed, their giggling echoing down the road. May looked back at the dog, who walked calmly down the street. His confident gait spoke of familiarity with his surroundings.

More than that, May thought, It’s like he knows we aren’t a threat.

“May,” Max said hoarsely. “I would like to leave now. Please.”

May gave a start and looked at her brother. “Y-Yeah,” she mumbled.

With her keys the freelancer opened the car and slipped into the driver’s seat. She did not shut the door, however. Instead, she leaned over and unlocked Max’s door, then quickly pulled the trunk release lever. Exiting, May went to her cracked trunk and opened it. Inside was her field sample kit. Opening the black leather case, she carefully slipped on two disposable gloves and unpackaged a sterile swab. Leaning down, May used the swab to collect some of the drool the dog had left on her leg. When she held it up to the light, it didn’t look special. May wasn’t all that surprised. Still, as she put away the swab in a protective tube, she found herself very glad she had brought her sample kit with her.

“May, what’s the hold up? Let’s go!” Max shouted impatiently from inside the car.

Rolling her eyes, May finished putting her things away before returning to the driver’s side, where she finally entered the car and shut the door.

“Something is up with that dog,” May said, her eyes searching the street for any sign of the animal. It was gone.

Damn it. I should’ve had Max take some pictures or something while I got the swab!

“What do you mean?” Max asked, giving her a weird look.

May gave him a look. “Are you kidding? You saw the same thing I did!”

“Saw what? A dog that was scary as hell? Yeah! I did! Big fucking mystery! I told you, we should’ve scared the thing off! Haven’t you ever watched dog shows? Dogs that act like that are dangerous!”

“Lackley, the guy who hired me, says the dog never attacked or bit anybody.”

“That was pretty aggressive shit, though, May. It got in our personal space and didn’t care!”

“Where did it touch you, Max?”

Her brother wrinkled his nose like this was a weird question. “My ankles, my legs, my waist, and under my jacket.”

“No, I mean–show me. What order did he touch you in!”

Max raised an eyebrow and did as she asked, tapping first his left ankle, then his right, then his legs, his waist, and under his jacket. “Here, here, around here, then here, then up here.”

May could feel her breathing quicken as her body tingled with excitement. “It did the same thing to me!”

“So? Can we leave now?”

May squeezed her eyes shut in frustration. This was why she liked working alone. “You don’t get it!”

“Get what?”

“It was searching us, Max!”

Her brother laughed. “Searching us? For food, or something?”

“No!” May looked at her brother with impatience. “The dog was too purposeful! Methodical even! Haven’t you ever seen police dogs at work? Even with a handler guiding them, they aren’t that exact! This dog? Very precise. Not only in how he searched us, but in where.”

Max shook his head slowly, giving her a weirded look. “May, I think you’re over thinking this.”

“I mean it, Max! Think about it! When a person does a body search, what are the primary areas that they focus on?”

Her brother frowned but looked down at his lap in thought. “In a body search, a person would pat down the waist, the legs, and the ankles, among other things.”

“Maybe the reason the dog didn’t search higher was because of his sense of smell? Sticking his head under our coats, he’d be able to smell any gun oil right off the bat. Besides, going up on his hind legs like that would put him in a compromised position. He didn’t know if we were a threat yet so he didn’t want to risk that.”

Max stared at her. “Listen to yourself, May! This is just a dog!

May sighed and turned on her car. “Max, what I didn’t tell you before is that I specialize in strange cases. Having an open mind, even for the crazy stuff? Kind of required in my line of work.”

After she put the car in drive and pulled out into the street, Max huffed, “Yeah, but–”

“‘How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?'” May interjected.

At Max’s bewildered look, the freelancer laughed softly and said, “Sherlock Holmes quote.”

Max shook his head and leaned on the inside of the passenger door. “You’re so weird…” the man muttered.


Previously in Chapter 2.4 | Continue to Chapter 3.2